(B2-8) Moses and David: Ambiguous Prototypes for Patriarch and Emperor in Byzantium

John the Baptist crowns Alexandros I. (912/913)
John the Baptist crowns Alexandros I. (912/913)
© Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington DC

Not only in public did patriarch and emperor act with and against each other, the relationship also found expression on other levels. The image of the ideal emperor and imperial propaganda have been grasped by both pictorial and written evidence, and have in part also been studied with the help of it. The image and the medial figuration of the patriarch, on the other hand, have been treated with neglect as there are next to no graphical representations and as written sources largely have to be relied on. The public appearance of the church leader, unlike that of the emperor, has not been dealt with independently either.

Over the centuries, however, a patriarchal ideal has developed which culminates and becomes clearly comprehensible in the 12th century in a rich patriarch panegyric. A rivalry with the imperial eulogia can be observed here which, in turn, reveals the positions of the two powers in the political system. Both institutions appear a little philanthropic, although this ideal finds different expression: the emperor donates material items while the patriarch cares for the spiritual health.

In typologising, characters of the Old and New Testament are drawn on both in the secular and in the spiritual milieu. The ambiguity of the biblical protagonists, particularly David and Moses, allows them to be used in both areas – this process can already be seen in Late Antiquity but it has not yet been systematically studied for the Middle Byzantine period. Ever since the time of the church fathers has John Prodromos been seen as the model of an ideal bishop. Ambiguity (amphoteroglossia) is a characteristic of Byzantine rhetorical literature and is also comprehensible here.

Stages of the project:

  • As a balanced comparison is only possible on the basis of written records, historiographical, hagiographical and other rhetorical works will be analysed and unpublished sources made accessible.
  • Investigation of the changing and flexibility of motifs and typologies of Old Testament characters in panegyrics and eulogies, and analysis of imperial and patriarchal reservations.
  • Ideas of the ideal patriarch as a counterpart to the emperor – what is the quality of a church leader compared to an emperor?
  • Even if the ambiguity of the leading Old Testament figures opens up leeway in rhetorical composition, the Byzantine political/ideological system is understood as an entity.

The Project is part of coordinated project group Figurations of the religious and the political.

Transformations of the martyr’s concept in the Middle Byzantine period (Subproject within the coordinated project group “Martyrdom and the cult of martyrs”)

After Christianity had been recognised as state religion, the martyr’s concept and martyr worship persisted even in the Byzantine-oriented (orthodox) East. The word martyr experienced a wider meaning and an enhancement of its original connotation (“witness”) in the process, which showed in the epithet homologetes (“confessor”).

In Middle Byzantine history, developments facilitating the emergence of martyrs in the proper (pre-Constantine) sense arose within the empire and also through contacts with powers outside the empire.

  • The Byzantine empire experienced a religious and empire political crisis during iconoclasm (726-843). In retrospect, many of those who confessed to worshipping images were found to have been mutilated or to have lost their lives. Afterwards, there were hardly any martyrs within the borders of the Byzantine-dominated world. In the event of incidental heretical movements, the “state” power took care not to undertake executions indiscriminately without any normative procedures. As of the 4th century, the “holy man” or “holy woman” type emerged whose occurrence peaked for the last time in the 12th century. Similar to the Stylites of Late Antiquity, they confessed their belief in God publicly and with audience appeal.
  • Martyrs and confession at the risk of one’s own life can also be found in those areas that the Byzantine central power lost or where conflicts with populations of a different faith were taking place (southern Balkans or in the eastern border regions).

Initially, the project aims to deal with the changing, flexibility and transformation of the martyr’s concept. In a second step, the waves of hagiographic and martyr literature will be analysed and related to possible social moods or needs (rise in the production of martyrs’ and saints’ lives after iconoclasm). Furthermore, it will be investigated whether a shift in attitude towards (physical) violence can also be detected.

It will also be explored if and how martyrdom was exploited by the church or the state, because martyrs’ (and saints’) depictions not only served to strengthen faith but also subtly transported imperial propaganda. In addition, martyrs and saints fulfil an authoritative function that enables them to arbitrate between the poles of power – standing outside or above, as it were.

The Project is part of coordinated project group Martyrdom and the cult of martyrs.